By some estimates, as many as 60% of adults over the age of 60 have some degree of hiatal hernia. In many cases, people don’t even know they have a hernia, but the condition can sometimes be dangerous. If you have been diagnosed with a hiatal hernia, or you suspect you may have one, book an appointment online or by phone with Dr. Matthew Lublin, MD, FACS, in Santa Monica and Encino, California, to find out if he has treatment options for you.

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What is a hiatal hernia?

A hernia is when an organ pushes through weak muscle tissue. A hiatal hernia is a specific type of hernia, involving the stomach and diaphragm.

When you swallow food, it passes through your esophagus and into your stomach. The esophagus passes through an opening called a hiatus to get through your diaphragm, which is a thick, muscular wall that separates your chest cavity from your abdominal cavity.

A hiatal hernia occurs when that opening stretches or is torn, allowing the stomach to push through. There are two types of hiatal hernia: sliding and fixed.

The sliding type of hiatal hernia is more common — many people don’t even realize they have it. The upper part of the stomach and the attached esophagus slide up through the hiatus when there is extra pressure, such as when your stomach is excessively full, then it goes back down when the pressure is relieved.

A paraesophageal, or fixed, hernia is when part of the stomach pushes through the hiatus and remains there. Although some people have a paraesophageal hernia without symptoms, this type of hiatal hernia may reduce blood flow to the part of the stomach that is pushed through the opening.

How are hiatal hernias treated?

Often, there is no need to treat a hiatal hernia. Symptoms that arise may be reduced through nonmedical means. For instance, doctors frequently tell people with a hiatal hernia not to eat large meals, to avoid lying down or bending over immediately after eating, to lose weight, and to quit smoking.

Dr. Lublin may also recommend medications to reduce symptoms. Drugs that reduce acid production or neutralize stomach acidity can lessen acid reflux symptoms that some people endure with hiatal hernias.

In some cases, surgery is the best way to treat a hiatal hernia. If Dr. Lublin is concerned that your stomach is in danger of lessened blood flow, he may recommend surgery. The procedure is usually performed laparoscopically, and it requires an overnight stay in the hospital.

What are the risk factors for hiatal hernia?

You are more likely to develop a hiatal hernia if you

  • Are a woman
  • Have a family history of hernia
  • Smoke

If you suspect you may have a hiatal hernia, schedule an appointment with Dr. Lublin to discuss any concerns you may have, as well as learn what treatments may be appropriate for you.